Monday, 7 September 2009

Islam Is Of The Devil: A Response

According to Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.

Concurring with this assertion the First Amendment of the United States Constitutions upholds that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”.

In similar vein, the Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights stated in Paragraph One that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance”.

In Paragraph Two it clarified that,” Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

In line with the above instruments, the African Union in Article 8 of its Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights noted that, “Freedom of conscience, the profession and free practice of religion shall be guaranteed. No one may, subject to law and order, be submitted to measures restricting the exercise of these freedoms”.

The inclusion of the right to the Freedom of Religion in all these instruments attest to the fact that Freedom of Religion is one of the most cherished and valuable of all human rights and takes precedence in all documents dealing with the rights of man. This is a testimony to the fact that the freedom to profess any religion is an inalienable right of man as well as an assertion that religion is a means by which man communicate with his God and therefore should be protected from being ridiculed by those who do not share and profess the same faith and creed with him.

Right from the time immemorial man has developed a special link with his creator and in all cultures and races of the world people still spend a lot of time in the quest to understand more who God is. The implication of this is that people of all races and nations have a special bond with their God.

All religions are in one accord that God is peace and therefore those who worship him must do that in peace. However we are not unaware of the fact that some unscrupulous people have committed all sorts of evil in the name of God just as a good number of others have done and have continued doing good in the name of same God. It is as a result of this development that religion has been a subject of major controversy. People who do evil in the name of religion and by implication of God usually justify their actions with the answer that, ‘it is done in the name of God’. This is akin to justifying evil so far it is done in the name of God.

Let us take a walk down the memory lane. For over 200 years crusade, a religiously-sanctioned military campaigns was waged by the Roman Catholic Church and much of Latin Christian Europe, particularly the Franks of France and the Holy Roman Empire against the Muslims. The specific crusades to restore Christian control of the Holy Land were fought over a period of nearly 200 years, between 1095 and 1291. Other campaigns in Spain and Eastern Europe continued into the 15th century and it was sanctioned by the Popes in the name of God. In fact the motto of the infamous Roman Catholic chivalry Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem that fought and killed the Muslims during the First Crusade is ‘Deus lo vult’ meaning ‘God Willed It’.

The major focus of these Crusades was mainly against the Muslims occupying the Holy Land, although campaigns were also waged against pagan Slavs, Jews, Russian and Greek Orthodox Christians, Mongols, Cathars, Hussites, Waldensians, Old Prussians, and political enemies of the popes. The main original goal of the crusades was to capture Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims. The crusade against the Jews continued right into the 20th century and climaxed under the Nazi Germany where over 6 million were killed.

The Roman Catholic Church in particular has a rich history of violence and intolerance of groups, individuals and other religions that do not conform to her beliefs. People like Martin Luther and Galileo Galilei were vehemently opposed and persecuted for standing on what they believed in despite the full pressure of the church. Martin Luther’s opposition to the selling of indulgence as evil led to him excommunication and all the efforts of the Roman Catholic Church to have him killed by the Inquisition proved futile due to the overwhelming support he received from the German nobility.

Galileo Galilei also met a similar fate. Galileo's championing of Copernicanism was controversial within his lifetime, when a large majority of philosophers and astronomers still subscribed to the geocentric view that the Earth is at the centre of the universe. After 1610, when he began supporting heliocentrism publicly, he met with bitter opposition from some philosophers and clerics, and two of the latter eventually denounced him to the Roman Inquisition in 1615. Although he was cleared of any offence at that time, the Catholic Church nevertheless condemned heliocentrism in February 1616 as "false and contrary to Scripture" and Galileo was warned to abandon his support for it, which he promised to do. When he later defended his views in his most famous work, ‘Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems’, published in 1632, he was tried by the Inquisition, found "vehemently suspect of heresy," forced to recant and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Galileo’s link with the noble and famous Medici family of Florence saved him from being burn at the stake.

The foundation of the Anglican Church by King Henry XIII also met with the same fate leading to both faith killing and slaughtering each other like bush meat in the name of God and even up till today the Roman Catholic church has consistently refused to accept the validity of the Anglican Orders and still maintains that the only authentic church in the world founded by Jesus Christ is the Roman Catholic Church. This stance was pronounced in 2000 with the document ‘Dominus Iesus’ which states that people outside of Christianity are "in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation", and that non-Catholic Christian communities had "defects." Some non-Catholic groups have interpreted this as disparagement of their faiths while others have appreciated that the Church position does not deny the salvation of those officially and visibly separated from the Catholic Church.

This evil in the name of God and religion is not peculiar to the Christian faith. It also forms one of the cardinal pillars of Islam especially during its foundation and today. In fact there is a strong belief within Islam of forceful conversion of others to the Islamic faith and killing them if they refuse to be converted. This is done with the view of pleasing and receiving reward from Allah. Part of the reason why the men who committed the September 11 atrocities in New York did what they did was because they were convinced that they are doing the work of Allah who would welcomed them in heaven with virgins for them to have a good time with. That sounds like orgy in heaven!

Also in Islam, the theology of Fatwa is taken seriously and executed with the understanding that it is the will of God. God willed it! Fatwa in itself does not really mean pronouncement of punishment or death against those who go against the Muslim faith. In actual fact, in the Islamic faith it is a religious opinion concerning Islamic law issued by an Islamic scholar. In Sunni Islam any fatwa is non-binding, whereas in Shia Islam it could be binding, depending on the status of the scholar.

However, lately some Muslim scholars have taken advantage of Fatwa to commit evil in the name of God like the pronouncement of the death sentence on Salman Rushdie in 1989 by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran for the publication of the Satanic Verses. It is in the same Iran that a general election was seriously rigged, probably in the name of God too. Also in the same Iran in August 9, 2005, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa forbidding the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons. What happens today in Iran attests to the fact that man is today doing his will and not the will of God and all these makes a mockery of religion.

Similar sinister Fatwa in the name of God was also issued by Yusuf al-Qaradawi on April 14 2004 against the United States of America stating that the boycott of American and Israeli products was an obligation for all who are able. This was followed by that of Sheik Sadeq Abdallah bin Al-Majed, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Sudan who issued a fatwa that prohibits vaccination of children claiming it is a conspiracy of the Jews and Freemasons. In 1998, the Grand Ayatollah Sistani of Iraq issued his own fatwa prohibiting University of Virginia professor Abdulaziz Sachedina from ever again teaching Islam due in part to Sachedina's writings encouraging acceptance of religious pluralism in the Muslim world. Even the infamous Osama Bin Laden issued two fatwas on two separate occasions. The first was in 1996 and the second in 1998 and in each occasion asking the Muslims to kill both American civilian and military personnel till they withdrew support for Israel and their military operations in Islamic countries.

One interesting thing with the above examples is that they all involve killing or punishment in the name of God. These examples have therefore gone a long way in supporting the fact that religion plays a vital role in creating and fomenting trouble; all in the name of God. It is not very uncommon to see Pentecostal born again Christians calling others devils in the name of God or the Roman Catholic Church denouncing the Anglican priesthood as invalid in the name of God. Everybody is fighting for God thereby raising a very big doubt over the almighty and omniscient qualities of God.

It is because of all these excesses and nonsenses that the instruments quoted at the outset were codified to guarantee the freedom of people to have their own religion, worship their god according to the dictates of their conscience without fear or intimidation and also have the freedom to change their religion and even not to profess no religion at all including being atheist.

The writers of the instruments were intelligent and smart enough to know that religion is and should be a personal affair; hence the reason the American First Amendment forbade the state from adopting or elevating any religion to the level of state religion or in preference over others. It expressly made it very clear that religion should be a matter of personal choice and freewill which should be observed as a private affair in order not to orchestrate a situation where a religion would be used to victimise and infringe on the rights of others or used as an instrument of persecution, animosity, bigotry, hatred and war.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution however does not give the religions the immunity from being criticised. In fact same First Amendment upheld the Freedom to the Right of Speech and in as much as doing that, made it an offence to preach hatred and animosity against a religion or group of people of a particular faith. Further restrictions on the Right to the Freedom of Speech were accepted by the American Supreme Court when it decided Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652(1925). Writing on behalf of the majority, Justice Edward Sanford suggested clearly that states could punish words that "by their very nature, involve danger to the public peace and to the security of the state." Lawmakers were given the freedom to decide which speech would constitute a danger.

Based on the preceding argument then, it is therefore deplorable and appalling that a religion that professes faith in God of peace, unity and universal brotherhood could print a t-shirt with an inscription that denounces another religion as of evil and force its members especially the unsuspecting and vulnerable minors to wear it publicly even in the school environment. The fact that the incident took place in the United States of America, the melting point of democracy and ‘one nation under God’ is very worrisome.

To put the picture in perspective, last week some students in Alachua County of North Florida turned up to school wearing t-shirts with the inscription, “Islam Is Of The Devil” on the back. The shirts are connected to a local church called the Dove World Outreach Centre whose Senior Pastor, Terry Jones was reportedly saying that spreading the church's message is more important than education. The T-shirts had a verse from the Gospel of John on the front: "Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life; no one goes to the Father except through me," and the statement, "I stand in trust with Dove Outreach Centre." The students were sent home for violation of the school district's dress code when they declined to change the t-shirts or cover it up.

In a very wise decision the students involved were all sent home on the ground that the shirts might have offended or distracted others and violated the district's dress code as well as negates the principle of the First Amendment. The action of the school should be praised and emulated by others. School and schooling is all about tolerance, accommodation and respect and if these group of students and their families have not learnt the values and virtues of accommodating, tolerating and respecting other people irrespective of their belief, creed or religion, then something is very wrong either with them, the educational system or the environment there were brought up in.

It is quite unfortunate that this type of anti-Muslim message echoed a similar sentiment inadvertently but unwisely poured out by Pope Benedict XVI against the Muslim faith on September 12, 2006 while delivering a lecture titled, ‘Faith, Reason and the University-Memories and Reflections’ at the University of Regensburg in Germany. He was once a Professor of Theology in the university. The controversial comment originally appeared in the ‘Dialogue Held With A Certain Persian, the Worthy Mouterizes, in Anakara of Galatia’. The book was written in 1391 as an expression of the views of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos, one of the last Christian rulers before the fall of Constantinople to the Muslim Ottoman Empire. The book contains his response on various issues within Islam such as forced conversion, jihad, slavery and the relationship between faith and reason. The passage quoted by the Pope says, “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”.

Everything Islam cannot be wrong. There must be something good too about Islam and we also need to focus on them. We have good Muslim neighbours and friends and colleagues and they have been very good and friendly to us. There are also thousands of others out there working daily and having sleepless nights to ensure peace and understanding amongst religions. With due respect to them, we should also view their faith, creed, belief and religion with love and respect. However, my argument here does not mean or support the stifling of the Freedom to the Right of Speech and Access to Information. What I mean in all seriousness is that these two freedoms must be exercised in the light of decency, respect, tolerance and accommodation. If the students in question had put these into consideration, they would not have foolishly turned up for school with such a divisive and disrespectful t-shirt.

Schools are under a moral obligation to allow students to express their religious beliefs, no matter how crude they may appear to be, so far it is operated within the law and does not interfere with the rights and freedoms of others. The minority religions must also be protected from malicious discrimination based on their religious beliefs and convictions. If Situations like these are not tackled adequately, it could make the victims an object of ridicule and opprobrium. Every school that worth its name must make a provision for equal treatment of different faiths and it is purely because of this scenario that a school of thought is strongly against portraying any sign of religion in the school system to avoid matters like this arising.

I am strongly in favour of this. There should be no public display of religious objects in the public school system to avoid one religion being favoured over others. Students should also not publicly display religious articles and objects within the school environment. Whoever wants to pray should either go to a faith school or lock himself up in the room and pray till ‘thy kingdom come’. This however does not mean that faith schools should preclude students of other faith from being admitted into their school. In fact government should ensure that there is a legislation to guard against that. The superiority of the law should always take precedence over all other considerations.

This generation has already experienced a lot of evil because of religion and we cannot condone anymore any form of religious intolerance. The action of the affected students is highly offensive, deplorable, nauseating and repulsive and nobody who serves God could claim in any way that such t-shirts were made to proclaim Jesus Christ. No it is not and I strongly disagree with any opposing view. It is an instrument of fanaticism, division, hatred and bigotry and things like these have no place in the 21st century and should never be given a place or condoned.

The fact that such an action took place in a school environment where you are trying to create an atmosphere of respect, tolerance and accommodation makes it very detestable and disgusting and portrays the church concerned in a very bad faith. Islam is not evil. In fact evil are those Christians, Muslims and members of other faith who teach hatred, division, murder and wickedness in the name of God.

1 comment:

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